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Online Tools and Services for Your Business

21

Jan, 16

Online Tools and Services for Your Business

Starting up a new venture is a great joy and passion for the entrepreneur. He/she works very hard day and night to get the vital framework in place, like the concept, a business plan, and so many other important structural aspects. But when it comes to the online side of their business, most owners are not the IT pros that can handle these necessities, and therefore struggle. The reality is that startups cannot take the online side of their business lightly.

Many startups begin as a one-man show. That one person has to handle everything, including domain registration, website design, social media, online marketing, etc. If the business owner is not already familiar with these processes, then they are bound to lose not only money but also time to market, which is extremely important to any startup.

Here is a checklist and some suggestions on how to handle these activities in the best way, avoiding the hassle of learning everything on your own:

  • Domain Name
  • Website
  • Emails
  • Google Maps and Places
  • Social Accounts
  • Online Accounts Best Practices
  • Blog
  • Online Advertisements
  • Email Marketing
  • CRM
  • Help Desk Solution
  • Accounting Software / ERP
  • Payment Gateway
  • Mobile Devices and Tablets
  • Productivity Apps

This list is relevant to most businesses, but some of them may not be relevant to your business. I’ll elaborate on each topic so that you make a wiser decision and get started quickly and cost effectively without wasting a lot of time.

Let’s start with details on each topic:

Domain Name

  • Best Practice – The domain name is very important for any business, so choose carefully. Short domains are easier to remember and will fit better on business cards. The best way to get a good name is to look for domain names using the local country code, like .om, .in, .it, etc. instead of running after .com. Try to avoid domains with a country in the name, like com as this will limit your business to that geography. So choose a domain which can be taken to the global level.
  • Recommendation – To buy domain names there are many registrars, but I recommend godaddy.com as they provide a simple interface to manage the domain name server and is also cost effective.

Website

  • Best Practice – This could be tricky as it depends on your type of business. If your business is going to be driven by your website, then ensure that you have a very good partner with you who can help you build and manage the website for you. I would not recommend that you hire a full in-house team unless you have the knowledge to manage them. On the other hand, having an in-house web developer with designing capabilities can prove a very good investment especially if you need to constantly update your site and content. Let me explain the type of websites so that you don’t get fooled by jargon:
    • Static Website – These are basic HTML-based websites which can be quick and very cheap. The drawback is that you will always have a dependency on a web developer as it is completely HTML-based.
    • Dynamic Website – Now this is where you may get misled. There are two types of dynamic sites, one is Open Source Framework-based, like Joomla, Drupal, WordPress, etc. which are readily available and have a lot of plugins and add-ons, but may be a little challenging to get used to and learn. But the good news is that it can be maintained by anyone who knows that platform. The second type is the custom PHP type which is like a special framework only built for you with a very easy-to-use interface made for you. The issue with this type of dynamic website is that you get locked in with the web developer or company that built your site as no one else would be able to take over easily. This would work out best if you have an in-house team to take over the work right at the code level.
    • Cloud CMS Based – This is a new type of web development platform which is much better that the above two as it’s a fusion of both. It’s simple and standard and does not require any great knowledge on maintaining and updating the website. And it can be tailored with custom code.
  • Recommendation – Appoint an in-house web developer instead of hiring freelancers in case you are going to be dependent on them. If you have an in-house team and you just need occasional help, then freelancers are a better choice. For your hosting platform choose any platform which is cost effective and reliable like godaddy.com. For dynamic sites try to stick to WordPress and Joomla. For a cloud-based CMS site look at weekly.com or sitekreator.com

Email

  • Best Practice – Emails are the life blood of any business, so be sure that you do not compromise on this. Google Apps are the best of breed solution which is very cost effective and provides much more than email. Just ensure that you do not use a personal address for business like gmail.com or yahoo.com, etc. since it will give a very negative impression about the company. Also, maintain a standard on creating your email address, like firstname@domain.com or lastname@domain.com, and stick to the standards.
  • Recommendation – Google Apps is the best solution. Though Microsoft Outlook may be something you might have used and would feel comfortable with, stick with the web interface of Google Apps and your business will have higher productivity.

Google Maps & Places

  • Recommendation – I strongly recommend that you create a profile on Google Places with your company location. Also, make it available on Google Maps so that customers and clients can find you on the map. Don’t forget to embed Google Apps on your website!

Social Accounts

  • Best Practice – These are very important in today’s business world. Try to grab the names on all the social networking sites like Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Google+, etc.
  • Recommendation – Don’t forget to have a common functional email address to manage all this, preferably a free Gmail account as it will never expire. (Just don’t lose the password!)

Online Accounts

  • Best Practice – With all these growing online applications, it’s practically becoming impossible to remember all the login credentials you use. I suggest maintaining an online Google Doc or spreadsheet within your Google Account protected with two factor Authentication.
  • Recommendation – Wherever you find an option to login with Google Account then do so as you don’t have to remember a separate user name and password.

Blog

  • Blogs are necessary and a very good way to communicate to your audience. A lot of confusion surrounds where to keep the blog, either within the website or outside on services like Blogger, WordPress, Tumblr, etc. I suggest the following:
    • If you are a startup, then place the blog on an external platform like Blogger, as it’s going to help you to easily pump it to Google Search network. Also, if you are a startup you are likely to keep changing the website often to get the right design.
    • If you are an established company with a website you are satisfied with, then I would suggest that you integrate the blog with your website, however, it’s still not a bad idea to keep it external.
  • The most important part is that someone has to constantly keep writing on the blog at least once a month.
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